The Grammar of Jina Iconography II [Part 9]

Published: 15.03.2012


The essay was published in Berliner Indologische Studien No. 13/14. 2000, pp. 273-337.


 

§ 9. Questions of the “Interested Layman“

Didactic as well as more general considerations have prompted us to attach considerable importance to the subject of questions arising in the mind of the observer. An interested layman may ask the following questions (some discussed above, some not):

  • Why are so many Jina images unidentified?
  • Why is Mahāvīra's position in Jaina iconography (sculpture) so marginal?
  • Why are 4-Jina icons (chaumukha.s) and 3-Jina icons (tritīrthika.s) so popular in Jaina art?
  • Why are the gods of Jaina iconography (Ambikā, etc.) so different from the gods of the Jina legend (Śakra and the numerous classes of gods and demigods)?
  • Why are the YY so dominant in iconographic literature and so marginal in art?
  • What is the meaning of the graha.s in the context of the Jina image?
  • What is the meaning (and origin) of the anatomie surnaturelle (cranial bump, etc.)?
  • What is the difference between a Jina image and a Buddha image?

Some less technical questions can be added:

  • Are there Jaina goddesses with more than one head?
  • Were snakes and lotuses regarded as sacred in Jainism?
  • Why is the Jina (Buddha, etc.) so often represented with royal paraphernalia (throne, etc.)?

The interested layman may also ask (or forget to ask) for information on rarely discussed subjects:

  • Are Digambara and Śvetāmbara art (Mt. Abu, etc.) parallel developments as suggested by many publications or is Śvetāmbara art merely a sort of pocket in Jaina (Digambara Jaina) art?
  • What do we know about Jina images in stone in early Western Indian Jaina art?
  • What do we know about the bizarre forms of embellishment in medieval Śvetāmbara art (inlaid eyes, etc.; see Jayantavijaya Āb: illustrations 5, 18, 19 and Dix Jn: 11)?
  • What do we know about the trend towards marble as a new material in medieval Śvetāmbara art (Lohuizen He: 111; Dix Jn: 11 and 71)?
  • Why does Jaina art present the opposites of adorned and plain images, the former with rich parikara, the latter stout but artless (neither intended to demonstrate the specific spirit of Jainism).

In some cases, the layman cannot ask. The issue of § 8 is a case in point. Many friends of Jaina art feel that one should know Jaina literature in order to understand Jaina art. This is perfectly correct in the case of Jaina miniature painting (lives of the Jinas, etc.), but it is not correct for Jaina iconography in toto. Here, one may say in an ironical manner that one has, no doubt, to study the texts, but only in order to forget them afterwards. It is perhaps normal that art (the artists living in their own world) and texts (the authors being subject to church authority) converge in the course of time. But in that case we must admit the ubiquity of non-literary elements.

The principle of layman's questions can be extended to other fields. Thus one may ask in connection with Jainism as a religion the following questions:

  • What is the meaning of transmigration if there is no continuity of consciousness?
  • Who was the ego in the preceding existence?
  • Why is mokṣa in soteriology normally preceded by heaven?
  • Everywhere is suffering (at least in the sense of something to be got rid of) - does a person who has recovered from an illness also experience sufferings?
  • Is the stay in heaven also suffering?
  • Are there perhaps two types of suffering?
  • Has the average believer any adequate knowledge of the character of mokṣa as different from and even opposed to heaven?
  • Why has the true monk to observe celibacy?
  • What is the use of fasting?
  • Why is Pārśva, the historical Jina no. 23, not mentioned in the earliest texts (Ācārāṅga, Sūtrakṛtāṅga: Dhaky Pā, p. 1)?

It is not possible to neutralize such questions by mentioning the difference between theory and practice, or the difference between East and West, or to respond with a simple ignoramus (admission of ignorance). The question of the layman is by necessity also the question of the expert, and the vocabulary of the expert should contain either a clear answer or an admission of inherent difficulties.

 

Sources

Berliner Indologische Studien

Compiled by PK

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